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AT&T On Data Throttling: Blame Yourselves 406

Posted by samzenpus
from the reap-what-you-sow dept.
zacharye writes in with a story about Senior EVP of AT&T technology and network operations John Donovan's blog post detailing why customers with unlimited smartphone plans are getting throttled. "In an effort to justify its policies surrounding data service throttling for subscribers with unlimited smartphone data plans, AT&T on Tuesday issued a brief report regarding data usage on its nationwide wireless network. Senior EVP of AT&T technology and network operations John Donovan wrote on a company blog that data traffic on AT&T's network has grown a staggering 20,000% over the past five years. Usage has doubled between 2010 and 2011 according to the executive, due in large part to the proliferation of smartphones. AT&T sold more smartphones in the fourth quarter of 2011 than in any other quarter in its history. And because its smartphone subscribers use so much data, AT&T seems to suggest it has no choice but to put measures such as data throttling in place."
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AT&T On Data Throttling: Blame Yourselves

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  • by Jafafa Hots (580169) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @02:48PM (#39047697) Homepage Journal

    ...for trying to use the product they bought.

    AT&T needs to learn from the insurance companies - the REAL profit is in selling a product you never intend to deliver.

  • Throttle sales (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sunderland56 (621843) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @02:48PM (#39047703)
    If their infrastructure wasn't up to it, why didn't they throttle sales of smartphones?
  • Alternatively (Score:5, Insightful)

    by macemoneta (154740) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @02:48PM (#39047711) Homepage

    Alternatively, they could not sell a service they can't actually deliver. Crazy, I know.

  • Horseshit (Score:2, Insightful)

    by redmid17 (1217076) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @02:49PM (#39047715)
    Looks like ATT didn't plan or execute their long term strategy well. And they wonder why they weren't allowed to buy T-Mobile
  • I Agree (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wisnoskij (1206448) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @02:50PM (#39047729) Homepage

    I agree with him. They only have themselves to blame for picking AT&T in the first place.
    If they wanted good honest service then they had every reason to believe that AT&T was the last place they would find it.

  • IPhone (Score:5, Insightful)

    by the_Bionic_lemming (446569) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @02:51PM (#39047761)

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is like selling 5,000 tickets to a show that can only host a thousand people, and blaming the people who complain about not getting what the paid for.

  • Bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by swv3752 (187722) <swv3752 AT hotmail DOT com> on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @02:51PM (#39047763) Homepage Journal

    It is called build up your damn infrastructure. Stop taking our money and using it to give the excutives bonuses, and start investing in infrastructure. They get gobs of tax breaks and straight up funding to build infrastructure.

    Now they have the gall to complain about folks actually using the unlimited data plan they get sold, because they have not properly built up their infrastructure. Fuck them. Fuck them in the skull.

  • no opt-out either (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fred fleenblat (463628) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @02:51PM (#39047765) Homepage

    I like the way AT&T mandates that all smart phones on their network have a data plan. God forbid someone have a smart phone, do smart phone stuff over wifi, and just use it as a regular phone the rest of the time not eating into AT&T's precious bandwidth.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @02:56PM (#39047861)

    and airlines... "overbooking," anyone?

  • by StikyPad (445176) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @02:57PM (#39047883) Homepage

    The problem is not throttling per se, but that the threshold for reaching throttling on an "unlimited" account is *lower* than on a tiered plan (the top 5% is allegedly between 1.6 GB and 1.8 GB), and that using a sliding metric will trend usage downward over the long term. People will be fearful of reaching the throttling threshold, and so they will be unreasonably conservative in their use, which in turn lowers the bar for what constitutes the top 5%. Theoretically, "unlimited" could eventually be even more limited than a 200MB plan.

    Obviously the best (and only) way to push back is to use as much data as possible on an unlimited plan, driving the ceiling upwards.

  • by AmigaMMC (1103025) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @02:59PM (#39047919)
    Data throttling is happening after 1.5GB to people on an unlimited plan whereas it doesn't happen to people who have 2GB or 3GB plans. That tells me that AT&T is coercing customers with an unlimited plan to drop it and go with a limited plan. It would be just fair for Data Throttling not to occur before 2 or 3GB of usage, to be in par with the other consumers. I think the FCC should step in and stop this abuse of consumer rights.
  • by Tanktalus (794810) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @03:02PM (#39047977) Journal

    I'll do it. If the government weren't so tightly regulating the spectrum making the barrier of entry into the market unbearably high, we'd see more competitors, some of which would understand that "selling the customer what they want" and "following through on contractual commitments" would net them a fair chunk of the customer base. And then AT&T would have to compete for customers instead of dictate to them.

    Now, I get that regulation of the airwaves has some benefit. But here is one of the costs.

  • Wow, 20,000% eh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ledow (319597) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @03:04PM (#39048011) Homepage

    20,000 % is 200 times. That's not a lot when you're considering total data, and not just maximum theoretical speed. For a start, if I use something everyday now that, five years ago, I only used one a month, that's 30 times more data already.

    But it would be a lot in speed capability. The mobile I had when I was a kid years ago could only handle GSM data (i.e. 9600 bps at best at the time). If that speed had increased 20,000%, I'd have a 230Gbytes/s phone today.

    I'm sorry but it's just poor planning. You know exactly how many customers you have and are likely to have. You know exactly what the theoretical maximum of those phones are. You know exactly what the average person will do (slowly use it more as time passes and upgrades pass by). Yet you still sell an unlimited package.

    It's just bad business, but they don't want to admit that, like the small businesses that let Groupon sell 20,000 coupons for a free cupcake, etc. You didn't plan. You didn't extrapolate. You didn't price your products properly. You didn't expand the capability of your network. You didn't do anything that I would expect a large business like AT&T to do.

    Ramp your prices up. Then wait for your customers to see all those Japanese telco's that give everyone huge allowances at top data rates for manageable prices on both mobile and fixed-line broadband. I don't care about your bad business planning, all I look for is value-for-money. If you can't provide it, I won't buy from you. If I do buy from you, I expect to get what I bought without any wording-tricks and revisions of the contracts. How hard is this to understand?

  • Re:Bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dhalka226 (559740) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @03:04PM (#39048017)

    I agree completely.

    I could maybe, maaaaaybe feel sorry for regular ISPs. There's undeniably a lot of piracy that goes on that inflates bandwidth usage beyond their predictions for reasonable.

    But that's not a significant issue on phones. Instead the phone companies are complaining about users doing the exact fucking things they market their phones as doing! "Your phone now plays YouTube videos!" "Whoa whoa whoa! Why are you guys watching so many videos on your phone? How could we possibly have predicted such a thing?" "Hey, now you can review that PowerPoint presentation in the cab!" "Whoa whoa whoa, why are you downloading files and shit?!" Well let me think about that for a while guys. Clearly the thought I've given the matter in this post alone exceeds what AT&T and their billions of dollars of profit gave it.

    Infrastructure is expensive. We get it. Hey, guess what? So are your phones, the mandatory data plan, smartphone fee and regular service fees over a multi-year contract. Nobody feels sorry for you for overselling your service even more than you calculated you were going to. Shut up and provide customers the service they bought with those billions of dollars of profit you make every quarter, even in one of the worst economies since the Depression. You'll find nobody here shedding a tear for you.

  • by 18_Rabbit (663482) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @03:05PM (#39048029)
    Sounds like that's exactly what they were doing. UNLIMITED data plans, shouldn't, you know, have a LIMIT.
  • by BDZ (632292) <rich@fourduck[ ]om ['s.c' in gap]> on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @03:12PM (#39048157)
    I think the main reason they don't throttle the customers with the limited plans is that they very much wish to see those people go over the limit so they can then charge them for additional usage.
  • by ackthpt (218170) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @03:14PM (#39048181) Homepage Journal

    ...for trying to use the product they bought.

    AT&T needs to learn from the insurance companies - the REAL profit is in selling a product you never intend to deliver.

    I'd mod this to +6 if I could.

    AT&T is still running a lot of traffic, last mile/last feet, in copper and doesn't want to go through tens of thousands of neighborhoods and replace copper with glass. They also don't want to upgrade switches. It was such a shock to their crappy infrastructure when the first iPhones saturated their networks in New York City. Excuse me while I mock the blank, stupid looks on their faces, because some engineer, somewhere must have done the math and warned them it was coming. Dur. Got some great publicity out of that gaffe, didn't they?

    And so little of that, if any at all, was dependent upon copper.

    I sit and read about Euro telecoms running networks up to 100 Mb/s all over the place and see AT&T (among others) looking for ways to throttle the pokey 6 Mb/s I'm getting, or even figuring how to charge me for using it, effectively threatening the Golden Goose of the Internet for any company selling a product requiring high bandwidth, which really is the future growth direction. What do they want, a government subsidy? Of course they do, just like Big Oil, I bet.

  • by rat7307 (218353) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @03:14PM (#39048187) Homepage

    You DO have unlimited data......

    Just not at unlimited speed

    Am I missing something here?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @03:16PM (#39048201)

    I can forgive airlines overbooking, to a degree. Most airlines only overbook a few seats, and it works out fine the majority of the time (I don't have exact numbers, but I'm a very frequent flier and rarely hear about people being bumped) And in the few case when it doesn't work out and too many people show up, the airlines go out of their way to accommodate people. They'll ask for volunteers, provide free upgrades, meal vouchers and anything else.

    ATT on the other hand, has overbooked their network by a LARGE margin. They've invited easily double the amount of people they can handle, and all of those people are showing up. And in response to this problem, ATT says "just deal with it," I received no free upgrades, no discount on my bill, nothing to offset the fact that they didn't provide the service I payed for.

  • Re:Bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by unity100 (970058) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @03:18PM (#39048229) Homepage Journal

    I could maybe, maaaaaybe feel sorry for regular ISPs. There's undeniably a lot of piracy that goes on that inflates bandwidth usage beyond their predictions for reasonable.

    no you cant be sorry for them. pirates pay for their bandwidth. period.

  • by jeffmeden (135043) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @03:18PM (#39048237) Homepage Journal

    ...for trying to use the product they bought.

    AT&T needs to learn from the insurance companies - the REAL profit is in selling a product you never intend to deliver.

    Really? Sounds like someone is forgetting why insurance (and reinsurance) is one of the biggest industries in the world (and rightly so). Insurance, the kind commonly purchased by an individual (as has been beat to death in many a /. thread) is merely the sale of a share in the risk of an event happening, as a way of mitigating the personal loss by pooling resources of everyone who has exposure to that specific kind of risk. There isn't an insurance company in the world that operates solely by taking in money and never paying it out in the form of claims. Instead, they have a constant churn of subscribers, claims, and modifications to their risk assessments to try to better price the products they sell (risk share is a VERY tangible product.) If anything, the nature of insurance as a product makes the industry very competitive and efficient (health "insurance", which is not really insurance in this definition, notwithstanding) so using them as an example of a marketplace as bent as the wireless one is pretty ignorant.

  • Re:Horseshit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ackthpt (218170) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @03:19PM (#39048247) Homepage Journal

    Looks like ATT didn't plan or execute their long term strategy well. And they wonder why they weren't allowed to buy T-Mobile

    They're plans for T-mobile probably included making a lot of money in bonuses and executive backslapping. It had nothing to do with improving service.

  • by rolfwind (528248) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @03:21PM (#39048301)

    Can't it be about screwing both?

    It's like listening to a used car salesman whose motto is "We screw the other guy and pass the savings onto you!" and believing you're the one getting a good deal when in reality the "savings" only gets passed onto the salesman himself.

  • Re:Throttle sales (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TemporalBeing (803363) <bm_witnessNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @03:34PM (#39048513) Homepage Journal

    If their infrastructure wasn't up to it, why didn't they throttle sales of smartphones?

    Or why didn't they just allow people to not buy a data plan?

    Seriously, if that is the issue they why should they be:

    1. Requiring all devices with a full keyboard to have atleast a text-messaging plan?
    2. Requiring all touch-screen devices to have a full data plan?

    While many customers may want that, not everyone does. So let them have the cheaper plans if they want.

  • by gman003 (1693318) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @03:36PM (#39048529)

    Nope.

    I was given a Droid 1. Completely mine - Verizon didn't even know I had it until I went in to have my number transferred from my old dumbphone.

    They flat-out *would* *not* *let* *me* use it as "dumb phone with an integrated wifi computer". I was forced to upgrade to the bare-minimum 3G plan. And then they told me that if I had done the number transfer myself, they would have *automatically* added 3G charges to my bill (without telling me), even if I never used 3G.

    I imagine AT&T is just as despicably evil as Verizon in this matter.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @03:36PM (#39048545)

    the marginal cost of a text message is zero, since the data is going to be used regardless. Charging extra for SMS is nothing but a naked money grab.

    Wrong. Offering SMS to customers is not cost-free. The service requires deployment of SMS-specific infrastructure elements (hardware and software). The infrastructure and service require maintenance and support. Are margins huge on SMS? Maybe, I don't know. But to claim it costs carriers nothing to provide SMS and so it's an act of corporate robbery to charge anything for it? Nonsense.

  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @03:39PM (#39048591)

    UNLIMITED data plans, shouldn't, you know, have a LIMIT.

    Well... Technically they have an inherent limit of (max_bandwidth * time) but carriers assume *much* smaller usage by users and that's, of course, the problem. If they would run metrics on typical usage they'd know better. Of course, I assume they *do* run metrics, to come up with their various data plans, and gear their data plans to fall just short of typical usage blocks to allow easy overruns and extra charging. Ya, I'm cynical.

    Of course, AT&T would argue that they are not technically limiting the amount of data, just lowering the bandwidth - which is: tomato - tomahto.

  • by postbigbang (761081) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @03:48PM (#39048743)

    I'm not sure how much you travel, but when I sit in various terminals across the USA and EU, I hear lots of requests for volunteers on popular, oversold routes. Some people are joyous to get the free pittance offered to them in "compensation". Others sit in airports, sometimes for days, waiting for flights.

    Your term "exceptionally rarely" is both meaningless, and in common use, not how the real world works. Those elaborate models you cite make most flights into cattle cars, sardine cans, with overhead storage bulging to the bursting point.

  • by gorzek (647352) <gorzek.gmail@com> on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @03:54PM (#39048865) Homepage Journal

    My argument is that the marginal cost of SMS messages is zero, so whatever it costs the cell phone carrier to offer that service to you should be a flat fee for unlimited usage, or just be bundled into your plan from the start, but not metered by how many texts you use. Essentially, it costs just as much for the carrier to offer SMS to a person who texts once a month as it does to offer that service to someone who sends 10,000 texts a month. It should be priced accordingly. Obviously, they are entitled to put a profit margin on it so it goes above and beyond what it costs to provide that service, but I think it's difficult to justify charging for texts based on how many you use.

  • Re:Throttle sales (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rwv (1636355) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @04:05PM (#39049081) Homepage Journal

    So let them have the cheaper plans if they want.

    You mean give the customer what they want? Seriously, I would love to have a Wifi-only Smartphone that can't access a 3G Data network. Though, FFS, $30/month for a data plan ought to be enough for them to beef up their goddamned network. Where is all that money going?

  • by Zontar_Thing_From_Ve (949321) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @04:07PM (#39049131)

    I can forgive airlines overbooking, to a degree. Most airlines only overbook a few seats, and it works out fine the majority of the time (I don't have exact numbers, but I'm a very frequent flier and rarely hear about people being bumped) And in the few case when it doesn't work out and too many people show up, the airlines go out of their way to accommodate people. They'll ask for volunteers, provide free upgrades, meal vouchers and anything else.

    Fortunately the airlines have reduced overbooking a lot from the past and while it is true that they ask for volunteers when they have to bump someone, what is no longer true is that the compensation is worthwhile. Typically it's a credit towards a future flight and not a free flight, yet people remember how it was 20+ years ago and assume that the generous payments for self-volunteering still exist when in fact they do not. If you throw a fit you might get a crappy meal voucher that will buy you a hamburger and a coke. Upgrade? Unlikely unless the only empty seat on the next flight is one that's an upgrade for you and they have nowhere else to put you. The "compensation" is actually pretty bad most of the time but I guess if that $400 (or possibly less) credit towards a future flight is really useful to you, you might consider volunteering. Note that I am speaking of the USA and things may well be different in other countries.

  • Re:Alternatively (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sir Realist (1391555) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @04:46PM (#39050081)

    But whats cool about the article is that AT&T is actually producing statistics demonstrably proving their own staggering incompetence as the reason why we should feel good about giving them more money.

    I mean hello? So this trend of staggering growth has been going on for FIVE YEARS, and even after finally noticing that the problem has already gotten pretty bad, and noticing that its directly related to smartphone usage, you sold more new smartphones last quarter than ever before without first doing something to fix it? And I got all those numbers from YOUR OWN PR?

    I can't decide which is more incompetent: the management of your core buisiness, or your EVP's attempts a damage control.

    Perhaps a tie.

  • by Obfuscant (592200) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @04:58PM (#39050377)

    Those elaborate models you cite make most flights into cattle cars, sardine cans, with overhead storage bulging to the bursting point.

    What has made overhead storage bulging is not the practice of overbooking, which is a natural response to the tendency of people to book flights and then not show up, expecting a full refund, so the airlines would have empty seats that make no money.

    The cause is the creation of baggage charges for every checked bag. This, naturally, makes the frugal among the fliers buy the biggest bag they can that will meet airline standards (and often those that obviously don't) and try to stuff it into the overhead for free, because it won't fit under the seat in front of them.

    These are the people, of course, who would take advantage of the free gate checking of bags but they've managed to pack something valuable into the bag and don't want to let it go baggage class.

    I do wish the airlines would enforce their policies on carryon bag sizes and number, which would go a long way towards easing the crunch in overhead space. Stop the people at the gate from carrying on the big bags (or bypassing the pay-to-check system by gate checking them) and force them to check everything more than 2.

  • Re:IPhone (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tgeek (941867) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @05:05PM (#39050525)
    More like they sold you an all you can eat buffet, and then when they started running out of food replaced the dinner plates with saucers.

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